Sunday, September 30

mystery ladybirds in the garden

ladybirds are not birds (and neither are they ladies!) but i love them! i have been obsessed with all things ladybird, more popularly known locally by their american name: ladybug. i have a random collection of things (useful or not) with ladybug designs and i often get surprise gifts from friends who just happen to come across ladybug stuff and are reminded of me.

so i was quite delighted this morning when i discovered several ladybugs on one of my mom's mayana (coleus) plants in the garden.  guess what a group of ladybugs is called? a loveliness of ladybugs! isn't that pretty?

there were even what i think are the ladybug larvae, little white spiky creatures crawling on the leaves.  there were even some that looked like pupa or pupal cases. 

is this a ladybug larvae?

another larvae/pupa looking creature on the mayana plant

is this an empty pupal case?

i announced my discovery to my mom with great grandeur: you have ladybugs in the garden! they eat aphids! isn't that great?

they were orange ladybugs, with more than 20 spots on their shields. i have seen them in the garden before but in not so many numbers.

a ladybug and is that a ladybug larvae on the leaf below it?

so i took some pictures and did a little googl-ing, and i was aghast at what i found out! apparently not all ladybugs are good little helpful bugs!  i know i've written about ladybugs causing problems in vineyards and wines, but i always thought they were the good bugs in the garden because they got rid of plant sucking pests like aphids. but no! some ladybugs actually feed on plants and are pests themselves! uh oh. and while i'm not sure which species the ones we have in the garden are, i am bothered by the dry spots on the leaves of the mayana plant i found them on.

hmmm... so should i tell my mom now and risk causing the annihilation of a generation of my favorite bugs in our garden? help!

Monday, September 24

(non) birding in the rain: a raptorwatch attempt

my recent attempts at out-of-town birding have all been foiled by the rain, and the last one more substantially so.

alex & tere, on their pet raptor watch project, invited jun o, adri & myself along to scout a potential raptorwatch site in the town of dingalan, aurora.

september ushers in the migration season and raptor watch activities aim to document the return of the migratory raptors escaping from the northern hemisphere winter.

raptors fly on heat thermals produced as the day grows warmer, usually at mountainous areas where the hot air is pushed up against the slopes.  and so the identification of a raptorwatch site is a good start to producing the much needed local data for raptor migration.  at present, migratory raptors are recorded as they leave taiwan and as they arrive in indonesia. what happens to them in between those two countries?  well, no one really knows. they enter the philippines somewhere north and travel down south via unknown flyways. some of them stay for the winter.  that void in the data is what alex & tere want to fill up, and they are actively promoting raptor watch to the other wbcp-ers. the site for raptor watching the past few years has been tanay in rizal province, where the spine of the sierra madre mountain range is most accessible east of metro manila.

dingalan is a town north of tanay, with a bay which opens up to the pacific ocean, bordered by the town of gabaldon in nueva ecija, both tucked in the foothills of the western side of the sierra madre. our raptorwatch site, around 300 masl, held such promise. from north to east, the green forests of the aurora memorial national park sloping gently into  the bay and the islands of polilio in the distance, and the rising hills from the valley back to the green mountains from south to west. presumably, raptors pass thru here before being spotted at tanay. 

Raptor watching from the porch: dude!

The lush forests of the Aurora Memorial National Park veiled in fog.
And grassy fields on the south side. 

unfortunately, our exploratory weekend was filled with heavy rains, and at our altitude, our spectacular 360 degree view disappeared behind a veil of fog and mist several times during our stay.

The same view of Dingalen Bay: clear... then not clear.

Another view: not clear... then clear!

our weekend accommodations overlooked the town below, and we had our own share of migrants around the lodge. several brown shrikes trilled noisily around us, and we even had an unexpected visitor seeking shelter from the night rains! a female blue rock thrush we had admired during the day was found in the kitchen by alex at 5am!

A handsome brown shrike was one of many in the surrounding fields.
A female blue rock thrush in the rain.
And inside the house sheltering from the rain at 5am! 

An assortment of moths on the walls on a rainy night.

despite the bad weather, we did spot a few raptors occasion when the skies cleared: 3 oriental honeybuzzards, 2 grey faced buzzards and a couple of accipiters; which we followed with our bins and scopes until they disappeared from sight. a good indication that with good weather, this might just be a perfect raptor watch site!

a very fuzzy view of an oriental honeybuzzard flying away from us as the fog set in.

we also observed flocks of egrets flying towards the bay, only to turn back and fly in the opposite direction just as thick fog and rain descended on us! perhaps they had some internal sixth sense to detect the inclement weather for flying?

Egrets flying back and forth, is the for making them indecisive?

we finally gave up any more hope of raptor watching as the morning progressed without any improvement in the weather and we decided to just drive down to the town and take a look around.  at the port, we watched barn swallows,  and a few striated swallows fly overhead towards the pacific ocean in the direction of polilio island.

Alex and Tere exploring the pier at Dingalan town. In the rain. 

Striated swallows and tail-less Barn swallows taking a break. From the rain.

all in all, it was a relaxing weekend. birding from a porch with good food (fresh catch from the sea of course!), cool weather and fresh air. maybe on the return visit we'll have more raptors as well!

Fresh catch... yum yum. Bad weather? No birds? Let's eat!
The blue rock thrush, busy hunting despite the fog.  
The mountains and the forests of the national park hiding in the fog behind the house.

This road holds a promise for when we come back, hopefully in better weather.

Thursday, September 6

putat ng ateneo

(please excuse the the title of this essay )

what i am referring to is a beautiful tree native to the philippines and many parts of SE asia, india and polynesia.  it is common and grows in damp places along the seashore, rivers or creeks. however, with most of  metro manila's waterways paved with concrete, very few of these trees can be found in the city.

the putat: read more about it at the very useful stuartxchange

one of these places is by the creek separating the ateneo de manila university and miriam college campuses.  a fairly large (and probably old) putat grows by the culvert on the ateneo side, clearly visible from katipunan beside the pedestrian overpass crossing the road.

the putat (barringtonia racemosa) or fish poison wood (hinting at its traditional use to fisher folk) is small tree, somewhat "normal" looking. but when it flowers, its pink blooms can drip thickly from its branches and cover the ground in a carpet of pink. if only we had more waterways around the city to plant it! (too bad the mmda is no longer trying to paint the metro pink!)

i collected a few of the fallen seeds around the ateneo putat and at least three of them germinated.  hopefully i can re-plant them where they can grow and bloom.

i would have never noticed this tree if it wasn't mentioned to me by fellow-birder/native plant enthusiast cel (of the pnpcsi) and co-teacher abby (of the ateneo aemc). unfortunately, this putat, rare-tree-in-the-city, is in danger of being cleared for future road widening. katipunan traffic is no joke and this threat is very real. hopefully it won't fall victim to the concretization of the city.

the putat is one of the native trees that is not very popular, certainly not as popular as the non-native fruit trees from childhood: the duhat, atis, langka, santol and many other trees that were introduced from other parts of asia or the americas.  recently, a book on native philippine trees: Philippine Native Trees 101: Up Close and Personal, was launched.  cel was the chief photographer of the project so i was able to get advanced (and autographed! thanks cel!) copies before it comes out in the bookstores.  it talks of the kamuning, kamagong, lumbang, ipil and other native trees now more associated with streets and places than with the tree! it's a great book, filled not only with information, but delightful anecdotes from people from all walks of life.  to learn more about philippine native trees like the putat, go and grab your own copy!

Sunday, September 2

birthday birding and a year after...

i don't ever remember having birded on my birthday before, and since i've been feeling under-birded the past few months, i was able to sneak in three hours birding with adri today - in between regular sunday market and family lunch. while a few years ago, up diliman would have been the choice "neighborhood patch", the la mesa ecopark has overtaken the university campus the past year.  the lmep has a compact mini-forest and enjoys spillover from the nearby water reservoir. in fact it was almost exactly a year ago to the date (well, it was the day AFTER my birthday), when alex, tere, adri & i first tried birding at the mini-forest. we were there to check out red-bellied pittas reported by the bird photographers when we quite happily stumbled upon the (before this past year) ultra-hard to spot endemic ashy ground thrush!

since then, the ashy ground thrush has been reported regularly at the park and so has lost its evil bird status.  regular public birdwalks at the park led by wbcp-ers jops & maia have even had first time birders and park employees getting the thrush on their lifelists on their first birding trip! in fact, adri & i, with help from several of the birders and photographers had written an article about this bird which was published in the most recent issue of birding asia (the oriental bird club biannual publication).

strangely though, i had never had a chance to photograph this shy, beautiful bird over the past year.  not for the lack of close-encounters exactly, more like a lack of close encounters every time i had the camera with me!

but today the ashy ground thrush gave me the best birthday present: it perched right in the open for adri & myself! & this time i had the camera with me!

it had a caterpillar in its mouth it carried around so we're inclined to think that it has a nest somewhere! talk about prolific, nesting has been reported almost throughout the year!

we lucked out on the current star of the park: a pair of very active rufous paradise flycatchers... but we didn't mind really.  we still can't get over how great the lmep is for a quick city birding fix!

several mangrove blue flycatchers were busy feeding young birds. they were quite noisy calling out to each other.

mother & child busy looking for food

mom staying nearby
and the young one learning to hunt!

melodious calls of the oriental magpie-robins also filled the small patch of forest.

and the migrants continue to come in: we spotted my first arctic warbler for the season, two brown shrikes (one looking all the worse for wear while the other already fattened up and busy chasing all the other birds away) and a  couple of very active pechora pipits scavenging around the leaf litter with one even enjoying a bath in a puddle of water.

the pechora pipits were a blur in the low light

not bad birding at all, especially on my birthday!